Logan and Jennifer Baer-Riedhart, animal-assisted therapists

PHOTO by james raia

For more information on the Lend A Heart program, visit www.lendaheart.org.

About once a week, Logan, a 100-pound Great Pyrenees, and his owner, Jennifer Baer-Riedhart, leave Pollock Pines and drive nearly an hour to work at the Sacramento International Airport. There’s a lot to do at 6 a.m. Logan, age 4, is two years into his career as part of the Boarding Area Relaxation Corps. He wears a blue dog vest as identification. It also includes the words “Pet Me.” Baer-Riedhart, 65, is a volunteer for the Lend A Heart Lend A Hand Animal-Assisted Therapy program in Sacramento. The 30-year-old organization provides animal-assisted therapy in a full range of stressful circumstances.

How did you get involved in dog therapy?

We lived in Southern California and I was an engineer for NASA. One of the things I wanted to do when I retired was something with my dogs. I’ve had a Great Pyrenees before. We moved up here to get out of the hot desert winds.

Logan is so calm. Can you tell me about him?

We got him from a breeder in Northern California. We started in the Lend A Heart program in 2014 when he was a little over a year old. The airport program takes about a year because we want dogs that are very calm. There’s special training so they are used to elevators, large crowds and noise.

Why a Great Pyrenees?

Pyrenees are livestock guardians, so they are very independent and very intelligent. But they are also very aloof. They love family and they are gentle giants. But a lot of them, when they are on duty, they just know what they have to do. 

What does your volunteer work mean to you?

I just enjoy it. It’s great. You’ve got a wonderful dog that helps people and you get to go places. They’re not service dogs, so you can’t just take them into a restaurant or anything like that. But people can come up to him and pet him and talk to him.

You’ve likely had all kinds of situations at the airport. Can you give me an example or two?

I’ve had little kids who have come up, and when he’s laying down they just curl up and lay down with him and pretend they’re sleeping. They’ll touch his nose and his eyes. He doesn’t even blink or anything.On one of our visits here, he was laying down in Terminal B by the departure gate, and a lady came up in a business suit and everything, and she said, “I would love to just lay down there next to him and just cuddle up.” I said, “Go ahead.” She said, “Oh great.” 

Away from the airport, where else do you take Logan?

We go to a couple of rehab facilities in Placerville. We go to libraries and we go to schools for de-stressing finals week. We were at a high school once and they basically just let the kids out. We got mobbed. We had about 15 kids around Logan and me. I was holding onto the leash and I could just see part of him. He’s like the main event.

Have you ever had a bad experience with Logan?

He’s always by my side, so before we go up to a person, I say, “Would you like to visit with Logan?” The person might say, “Well, no.” I will say, “OK, that’s fine.” Usually, it’s the little kids. They’ll see him from afar and come running up and then stop about three or four feet away and say, “Whoa, that’s a big dog.” They’ll back up and not want to come near. That’s part of the challenge. The parents want the little kids to come visit with the dog, so I will have Logan lay down. I will the tell the parents and the kids they can come up and pet him on the back. I just say, “Feel his fur.”Can you tell if a person is afraid of dogs?

I have had a lot of people who are afraid of dogs who are willing to come up to him and actually touch him. They give him a little touch and then back off. He likes to come up and sniff people’s feet. He wants to see if they have any dog smells on their shoes. People sometimes think he’s a drug dog, but he’s not.

What does Logan eat?

I just feed him regular dry dog food with some canned pumpkin. I just add a couple of tablespoons to three-and-a-half cups of dry food. He likes that.

You know the saying that people often resemble their dogs? Well, you’ve got long white hair like Logan. Do people ever comment on that?

Well, that’s what you get when you get old. Your hair turns white. My husband has a big white beard, so there’s the three of us like that. My husband and I used to be Santa and Mrs. Claus. When the three of us walk down the street, people say, “You all look alike.”